A WAR THAT ALL OF U.S. CAN WIN
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
HOLLYWOOD, Feb. 12, 2002 -- I went to a meeting tonight where the idea was broached of turning our lone neighborhood park, where there's now a busy soccer field, kids' playground and picnic area, into a dog park -- a place not for kids and people but for dogs to run and take a crap. Gentrification has come to Ivar Hill, the neighborhood where over the years so many people have been shot, stabbed and beaten up by gangs, drunks and transients that at one point it boasted the second worst murder rate in the city.
Now that it's been cleaned up by the work of dozens of neighborhood watch activists like myself, some of whom were part of the Yucca Corridor Neighborhood Coaltion, wealthier single people are coming in and demanding that things be changed to resemble wherever they came from or dreamed of going. I can see a full-scale community war breaking out over this one.
Indeed, I stopped by a building where I still recall the pitched battle that broke out between the 18th Street Gang and the Guardian Angels when the latter moved into the basement of the building at the corner of Yucca and Cherokee, just a block from Matt Drudge's "penthouse" on Whitley Ave. The building they moved into -- at the invitation of the landlord, of course -- was so dangerous that people not from the building were well-advised to stay far away from it.
You'd have trouble counting the number of murders that occurred within a hundred feet or so of that place, and the Angels' clash with 18th Street was bloody but short -- they left. The building almost got demolished after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, which heavily damaged a number of buildings in the area with the result that the poor Latino occupants -- including many of the gang members -- had to move out. Nobody missed the bad guys.
Today that building is full of yuppies, many of them single gay men with dogs, who pay from $825 to $900 a month for a bachelor -- meaning one small room with the kitchen and all but the bathroom in it -- and $1,400 for a one bedroom. Several other buildings in the immediate area of that park have been similarly been turned over to the wealthier among us -- someone described them as "NBC executives" and the like. The outside of the building still looks like a dump, with the stucco peeling from the brick and the light at the gated entrance to the courtyard entry still plenty dark. Now, of course, it doesn't matter much.
In the glow of security that settled on the neighborhood as crime rates fell and prosperity took hold, the community did come back to life, so optimistic about its future that it tore down a series of dilapidated look-alike crack houses across from the building and built a park where they stood.
Across the street, the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) built a parking garage and included offices at street level for several community-based organizations. They are still in use as a children's learning center, a community policing substation, and the home of the Hollywood Beautification Team, which uses court-ordered community service workers to clean up the surrounding streets.
Selena Havlicek is in command there, and she listened on Tuesday night to a group of organizers from the wealthy Hollywood Hills who came to rope the Yucca Corridor into their plans for the future. She is a Latina with a strong organizing background who has fought the good fight for many years in the Yucca Corridor.
The plan to scrap the soccer field where dozens and dozens of young soccer players play all weekened shocked her, as did the revelation that there aren't any children in the neighborhood anymore. In fact, as she well knows, there were more than 500 at the 11th Annual Ivar Hill Christmas Posada that I've put on for the past decade, and almost all of them come from these streets.
I passed a bunch of them as I walked to the meeting, in fact, and one of them came skating after me to try to talk me into "doing an ollie" on the skateboard for $5. I begged off, but the wheel fell off his board before he could persist, anyway, and saved me from falling on my butt.
I passed these four kids, and a guy crouching at the corner of the Pla-Boy Liquor store eating a meal of Chinese food from the ABC Chinese Food & Ice Cream (and donuts) shop around the corner, and then I nodded to a guy in a sleeping bag in between Whitley and Hudson lying on the strip of grass next to the sidewalk, and then between Cherokee and Las Palmas I saw four older guys quietly practicing their soccer moves in the pitch dark on the fenced-in soccer field, and a big black guy shooting hoops by himself on the basketball court, and a guy collecting the trash from one of the cans at the park. I teased the hoops shooter and said hello to the park attendant, and in the next block I ran into Ursula Kelly and her beautiful daughter, Esperanza, and told them about the meeting, and then went across Highland to the magnificent cathedral-like First United Methodist Church, where the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council organizers had found a room to meet.
It's right across the street, by the way, from the new home of the Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater in the Hollywood & Highland shopping center, and that development has a lot to do with the suddent interest in the Hollywood Hills in the welfare of the flatlands below.
Only Selena and a few other Latinos were there. There was a bouncer, a big, smart, friendly guy named Darren from the Goldfingers nightclub, and he was the only black man there. The only two Asians were the day manager of the Pla-Boy and the owner, who speaks very little English. Their store was on the agenda, but we talked about dog crap -- they called it "poop" but I call it crap -- for a long time before we got around to the store.
I got up to talk at the end of the meeting, and I was pretty angry. I said that the word no one had mentioned was "gentrification," and that the wealthy people who had come down from the hills to lead us to glory needed to think again about the community they wanted to control. I pointed out the faces of some of the people in the room who had fought against the gangs with me and many others, and I reminded them of the death toll involved in our fight.
I talked about the long struggle that had taken place to get that park they wanted to devote to dog crap, and about the need for a little sensitivity on their part to the people some of them had moved in next to, and about how the liquor store had not given our community any money but had faithfully provided 10 cases of soda each year so all those kids and their families at our Christmas party could have something to washdown the chicken and rice.
In contrast, the Sav-On that moved in a year ago bribed the Yucca Corridor Coalition with $25,000 to support its liquor license, but it's never given the Ivar Hill kids so much as a bag of potato chips. The god of the yuppies is a cheapskate chain store that puts a dozen family-owned enterprises out of business. I don't know how much good it did, but people seemed to listen, and there was a lot of buzz when I sat down. A few people shook my hand and clapped me on the back, and some of the yuppies introduced themselves and congratulated me. One elderly gent named Fernan said, "I like the way you talk," and I liked the gleam in his eye when he said it.
And as much as I will stay and fight for the park and those kids on their skateboards, I know that Ivar Hill has to make room for them, too, as times change and Hollywood becomes a more successful place. Walking back the way I came, I passed two guys walking dogs, and two others walking together, one drinking beer from a can as they walked toward Whitley. They don't sell beer by the can at the Pla-Boy, but who else would know that? Not the guys with the dogs.
But the best community is a diverse one, where people of many races and incomes inspire one another. I think our part of town ought to have its own neighborhood council, instead of having one forced upon us. We're diverse and then some. And if I hope there won't be any war, I also hope that if there is, all of us will win.